Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Interview: Paul Newman biographer Shawn Levy

posted by Nell Minow

Movie critic Shawn Levy, author of the superb books King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis and Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey and the Last Great Show Biz Party, has a new book about one of the most accomplished and adored movie stars of all time, Paul Newman. He very kindly made time for an interview in the midst of his book tour.


Q: Newman was one of those rare performers who become icons of their eras. What was it about his style of acting and choices of scripts that seemed so particularly characteristic of the post-WWII years?

A: He often played younger than he really was, like many actors, but it was particularly his casting as the failed sons of strong fathers in such films as “The Rack,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Hud” and, in a sense, “The Long Hot Summer” and “The Hustler” that cemented him as an icon. He carried the sensitivity of James Dean into a new era when the promise of a film like “Rebel Without a Cause” bled into mainstream and prestige films. He easily segued into rebel/countercultural figures starting in the mid-’60s (“Harper,” “Hombre,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Butch Cassidy”). And because he was older than the characters he was playing (he was 38 when he made “Hud”), he also carried a savor of mature authority. He played, in short, equally well to both the establishment and the kids who threw mudballs at it.


Q: Is there a performance of Newman’s that you think is particularly overlooked or underrated?

A: His turn as the stage manager in the Broadway production of “Our Town,” which is available on DVD, is a classic bit of Americana. In movies, “Hombre” is tough and sullen and cool in a way you’d associate more with, oh, Steve McQueen than Newman. Both excellent films.


Q: What did he consider his biggest failing?

A: In acting, he felt he was too mechanical and calculating for the first 25 years or so of his career, and I think I’d agree. You see him pulling poses and striking moods quite deliberately even in such fine films as “The Hustler” and “Hud.” But later in life he ratcheted back and produced some astonishing performances. In life, I think he felt he was a very remote and arbitrary father until he reevaluated himself after the death of his son, Scott, in 1978.

  • Alicia

    Excellent interview questions and answers, Nell. If anyone fit the definition of a modern Renaissance Man, it was Paul Newman – father and husband, actor, director, race car driver, political activist, chef, philanthropist. I guess today we would simply call him a “Man in full.”

Previous Posts

Trailer: Barbershop - The Next Cut
Ice Cube and the gang are back for another "Barbershop" movie and it looks good! [iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0"] ...

posted 12:28:41pm Nov. 27, 2015 | read full post »

Happy Thanksgiving! Alice's Restaurant
Arlo Guthrie's classic song, "Alice's Restaurant," is based on the true story of his arrest for, well, garbage. [iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0"] ...

posted 3:45:01pm Nov. 26, 2015 | read full post »

Trailer: Miracles From Heaven
[youtube][/youtube] Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah star in "Miracles from Heaven," based on Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl and Her Amazing Story of Healing by Christy Wilson Beam. ...

posted 8:00:03am Nov. 26, 2015 | read full post »

"Brooklyn," based on the book by Colm Tóibín, is exquisitely lyrical, the story of a young woman who immigrates from Ireland to New ...

posted 5:22:49pm Nov. 25, 2015 | read full post »

Pixar's New Short is Really Special: Sanjay's Super Team
The best part of "The Good Dinosaur" is the short film that comes before, "Sanjay's Super Team." The Pixar short films are gems but this one is really special. It is the first to feature non-white characters, the first to be based on the life ...

posted 2:30:49pm Nov. 25, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.